This is a question I get in just about every Problem Solving class I teach, so I decided to share some of my experience in when to know the difference.
** Disclaimer - this information/interpretation is based on my 10 yrs experience on the production floor as a Group Leader at Toyota; there were no written rules per say, it was more a "cultural" understanding which was learned through experience and doing.
So some of you may ask? What is an A3?--- So quick review (see previous posts on A3) it's an 11 x 17 size of paper that shares a story which follows the -Plan-Do-Check-Action (PDCA) "thinking" methodology I often share as the 8 steps.
So basically I categorize problems into different levels (1-4). Based on the level of problem it can determine when to "just do it" (solve), and when to document the "thinking" process to share with others (people development/engagement/consensus/strategy deployment).
Level 1 - Normally does not require an A3 to be officially documented but the "thinking" behind the A3 is always important. It is a problem a team member/associate can handle on their own most of the time; root cause seems more apparent, minimal resources are needed to implement a countermeasure. This type of problem is usually details within the actual work or process that they do at the GEMBA. They can normally see a discrepancy (even if there isn’t a standard defined necessarily)... they know this because of their knowledge of the process.
A good practice to develop the culture is that they talk about this with their line supervisor, so the line supervisor can "spark" the questions to further develop their thinking for the next problem and so on. So the problem is tested/solved... and there is no reason for an A3 to be written. There could possibly be some level of tracking that leads them to this... a tic-mark sheet, counter etc. This level should have the associate thinking everyday about when they are out of standard (leaders should develop standards with them if none exist--key to seeing abnormality)... sometimes when they are really "developed thinkers", no supervisor is needed to implement. My experience is that 60-70% of the problems will/should fall into this category once the "PDCA thinking" is practiced through the leadership asking the right questions. . (**Note- It’s always a GOOD practice to set standards, problems become much more visible when standards have been set!)
Level 2 - Is when it requires an A3 or at least the documentation to share the learning with others (developing people) as well as developing the ones responsible (Supervisors/Leaders). The correct thinking (PDCA) is always the underlying priority behind the A3. As I’ve been told, the A3 is only as strong as the dialogue that creates it; meaning the questions we ask regarding the process. So Level 2 - is when Level 1 problems may resurface. That for some reason the associate did not get to the correct root cause, ask enough “whys”, or not getting facts. It’s a consistent/ and or sporadic problem that no one understands "why" it’s happening (maybe Level 1 only got to a symptom and there is a deeper need for research/tracking/fact finding etc.). This level may also require stronger supervisor knowledge/support, and possibly the next level of supervisor. It could require resources like maintenance, engineering, tool and die, and higher level decision making authority. This level is more than likely affecting the KPI's (Key Performance Indicators- i.e. Quality, Safety, Productivity, Cost) of the company in some way. At this level a deeper look into how the Problem was defined is also necessary-- meaning are we tacking the true "pain to the organization"?... for example.... Sometimes we may frame problems in the sense of "productivity issues", but the bigger problem may be "scrap rate". Decreasing Scrap rate will in turn improve productivity/efficiency. So Level 2 problems are mainly for Line supervisors/Group Leaders and above with support of the associate. The supervisor would be responsible for the documentation of the PDCA process. I know Safety "near misses" would fall into the Level 2 category... vs. a team member seeing a potential trip hazard with a cord and immediately fixing it (that would be level 1 thinking.) My experience is that 15-20% of the problems are Level 2.
Level 3- This is when a problem/defect may "flow out" to the customer (internal or external) that creates downtime, quality or safety issues for the customer which in turn can affect your own company indicators. This activity should engage a higher level manager/leadership, and actually they would be responsible for the documentation of the A3, getting support of course from the line supervisors and associates. Engaging the plant manager/high level leadership should create the accountability at that level to be responsible for his/her production floor as well as developing their people to understand how this happened (Especially if there are set standards--if not then it should raise a flag to create standards). If there was a defect that got past an area/department and to the customer, this is unacceptable and should be counter-measured temporary (stop the bleeding) to ensure nothing else "flows out" as well as finding the permanent countermeasure (using PDCA) (again this is all initiated by the plant manager--they should be responsible at this level and gather the resources necessary, and involving their people to ensure this will not happen again and learn from it for the the next A3). This level could also be related to potential recalls, external customer complaints, missed orders etc. Also there could be situations in-house where there may be a major breakdown which could in turn shut your customer down. There could be an internal Safety incident where someone was hurt severely (or potential fatality - near miss), always things like a fire in an area of the building, chemical spills. Management being responsible and leading this level is crucial. Remember the associate’s capability is only as strong as their leader’s capabilities. My experience is that 5-10% of the problems are Level 3.
Level 4 - This level of problem solving is more of the "raising the bar" or proactive problem solving! This goes to my DAMI conversation - define-achieve-maintain-and improve.... going from maintain to improve is “raising the bar”. Some even call it "Purposely creating a GAP". This can also be called a Jishuken event, or Management driven continuous improvement event. I was involved with several of those at Toyota.... where we improved our productivity/efficiency by rebalancing manpower therefore not hiring new people. ***In my experience Lean was never about letting people go based on our process improvements!
Level 4 was a practice in seeing waste, asking the right questions - what should be happening vs. what is happening? Is this standard acceptable? Can we raise the bar to improve our company? It gets the people who are practicing level 1 problems to see deeper, think deeper and bring in that "line of sight thinking" (see previous blogs) to what they are doing is contributing to the company/business indicators. Going back to "Problems Solved=Job Security". This allows them to assist in the other levels of problem solving possibly having a better problem awareness therefore possibly preventing the Level 2 or 3 type problems. Jishuken’s should be part of the culture, not deemed as a "special activity". Unfortunately most companies are always putting out fires... this is a very LOW percentage 0-5% where companies actually purposely create gaps. :( ... Some would think it is crazy to purposely create a problem :):)
I hope this helps in differentiating the Levels of problems (1-4) and when to do an A3 and when not to. (***as I see it, based on my experience).
Until next time,